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City commission may revisit solar farm location after public comments from Archer residents

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

During general public comment at the March 4 Gainesville City Commission meeting, eight people called in to ask the commission to revisit the plan to site a solar array in Archer. The first caller said Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) could have put the solar panels on their own land at Deerhaven “but instead elected to stick it way out to adjoin a black community in Archer.” Several callers specifically asked Commissioners Gail Johnson and Gigi Simmons, who are both running for re-election, to state where they stand on the issue. 

Geraldine McMillan said she owns property near the site. “The City of Gainesville and GRU constantly talk about systematic racism, inequality, inequitable development, discrimination, and their [equity] toolkit…. Dumping this project in Archer perpetuates systematic racism.” 

Another caller, Ms. Cleveland, said she believed the zoning exception would destroy the property value of neighbors’ homes: “I seriously doubt anyone sitting on the commission would want this project in their backyard.”

Also during public comment, Nathan Skop brought attention to a contract that was on the consent agenda. The contract is part of GRU’s implementation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, which was approved at the last city commission meeting. Skop said that AMI will lead to time-of-use (TOU) metering, in which different rates are charged at different times. Skop said TOU will disproportionately affect poor people and minorities. Ray Washington was trying to speak about the same issue on February 4 when his mask fell, he refused to pull it up, Mayor Lauren Poe gaveled the meeting into recess, and Washington was arrested for trespassing. 

Following general public comment, Poe asked GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski to “add some clarity” to the process of siting the solar farm. Poe pointed out that the only decision the city commission has made was to rank the proposals for a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to buy the power from the solar array. 

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Bielarski said GRU’s engineers have worked with Origis, the company that won the PPA, to find the most appropriate location for the solar array. Bielarski said much of the Deerhaven site is a wildlife refuge and also wetlands: “to have that contiguous area supporting solar arrays would be very problematic and challenging.” He also said that the power lines in the Deerhaven area couldn’t support the additional power and that they would probably need to build a second line around the east side of town at a cost of $25-$30 million if they added a solar array at Deerhaven.

Origis is currently asking the Alachua County Commission for a zoning exception to site the array in Archer. Simmons asked Bielarski how the site was chosen, and he said the site in Archer “was determined to be the most feasible and least costly.” Simmons asked staff to give her information about other sites that were considered, how the Archer site was selected, and what type of outreach was done to nearby residents. 

Johnson said she had some meetings with residents set up the next day (Friday) and a meeting scheduled with Bielarski. 

Poe added, “When we pursue our renewable energy goals, it’s to benefit everybody. We know that our low-income neighbors, our black and brown neighbors, are much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and that is one of the reasons that we have our goals. At the same time, we don’t want to pursue those goals at the exclusion of making sure that people are supportive and accepting of the steps it will take to get there. So it’s clear that we need to continue to have a discussion with the neighbors most directly impacted by the potential siting of this.”

Poe asked Bielarski to talk to Origis about alternative sites: “At some point, I’m sure that most of Deerhaven that is developable will have solar on it. As will much of our rooftops and other areas…” Poe then moved to the next item on the agenda.

  • We need to derail this solar farm project. It’s wrong on so many levels! If there is such a thing as systemic racism this is what it looks like in Alachua County.

  • I’m calling BS on this…solar panels aren’t any more racist than math is…that’s right…Math is racist and the nuts
    are saying it’s ” racist to show your work and to get the
    right answer”:..Don’t believe me? just google “is math racist”. We are not a racist country and only racists
    pull the race card to win a debate. Using the race card
    is a poor way to win a debate…Just like how people use
    the death card to cause fear and take our constitutional
    rights away with quarantines, vaccines, masks, and destroyed our dollar and economy. Would a black person
    putting that solar array there make the project not racist? Enough
    with this woke cancel culture crap already…The United States is not a racist country… It’s ok to put the solar project
    there and I am not racist…I believe we are all equal and
    this BS just perpetuates inequality.

  • Commissioners Johnson & Simmons will never say anything about where they stand because their actions show their hypocrisy. They are the “plantation” owners now and they want to keep it that way.

    The reason the costs are lower in Archer is because the property values are lower. Why don’t they build the solar array in the open space near some of the Butler Enterprises properties? They could have also put it near the old fairgrounds. Even better idea, clear out Grace Market Place and put it there.

    Bielarski is just keeping King Poe happy by his comments. There is a large portion of Deerhaven property that is open and able to house such an array and the infrastructure is already there

    Poe chooses his words carefully when he says, “our black and brown neighbors are much more vulnerable to climate change.”

    What makes him think black and brown individuals are more vulnerable to climate change than white individuals? He’s an idiot.
    What he avoided saying is that GRU’s overpriced utility rates cause more black and brown people to have their utilities turned off.

    Remember, the liberal majority in Gainesville are the ones who put these commissioners in office. Think about that when they’re taking your homes and raising your taxes.

  • this was worth repeating: “Poe chooses his words very carefully when he says, “our black and brown neighbors are more vulnerable to climate change”…what makes him think black and brown individuals are more vulnerable to climate change than white individuals? He’s an idiot.”….I agree with you 100% on that! The whole climate change
    argument is a farce too…

  • GRU should take a step back and focus on using commercial and home roof tops for producing more solar energy. These don’t require taking down trees and other beneficial carbon consuming vegetation.

    We need to support jobs in our community that would install panels and reward businesses and home owners for adapting their consumption to mitigate our carbon footprint in an all inclusive way. Therefore the cost of installing should be compensated by GRU in their service areas including those areas serviced by natural gas.

    If you live in Turkey Creek in the City of Alachua, you know the impact of the biomass plant. GRU is already contributing to massive carbon emissions by operating this plant. Trucks are rolling in daily with new loads of wood chips with no analysis of detrimental emissions. Yet they may spray it to mitigate the decomposition smell when it ferments from rain.

    At a meeting for FEMA supported funding for Alachua County Emergency Management, GRU requested to have votes on this committee, that approves funding requests, for 3 of their departments in addition to the City of Gainesville. Essentially, they wanted to control the funding requests that involved all Cities in our county. It was not approved.

    GRU is, and has been out of control, and only with self entity interest driving its mission.

    • Aircraft carriers are nuclear and are like small cities…
      Harnessing the atom is the future…GRU should diversify
      and get a small thorium reactor to meet future energy demand…carbon footprint is less than biomass and
      came make electric 24hrs a day…not just when its sunny out.

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